One by one, tents and cardboard boxes were pitched inside the parking lot of St. Mary's Church in Woodside last Thursday.
The site was dubbed Cuomoville, a tent city filled with displaced New Yorkers - a potential sight tenants and advocates of affordable housing [including Make the Road New York] fear the city would slowly begin to look like if rent laws are not strengthened or extended.
With rent regulation laws set to expire June 15, Mary Tek, rent regulation organizer for Tenants and Neighbors, a pro-tenant advocate group, said more than 2.5 million city residents who live in more than 1 million rent regulated apartments city wide would be negatively affected if legislators did not act.
"Rent stabilization keeps many of Queens' residents in their homes," Tek said. "If there are no rent laws, tent cities like this will pop up all over New York."
Established in 1943 by the federal government and now administered by the state, rent control and rent stabilization programs protect working- and middle-class families by limiting rent increases and by assuring tenants with lease renewals.
According to the 2008 Housing and Vacancy Survey, in Queens, 199,509 families lived in rent regulated units.
Betty Guman, 50, has lived in her Elmhurst apartment for 17 years. Following the Sept. 11 attacks she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Due to her condition, Guman qualifies for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption Program (DRIE), a rent stabilization program that exempts her from rent increases.
Guman is a full-time student at LaGuardia Community College where she is in her final semester, pursuing a career in social work. She fears if the rent laws are not extended, she would have to go back to working full-time, putting her future career aspirations in jeopardy.
"Where am I supposed to go," Guman asked. "If I have to leave, I wouldn't be able to afford a studio on my income alone. Our legislators must act now."
Borough legislators pledged their support towards strengthening and extending rent laws while stressing that more pressure needed to be put on Republican Senators to understand the core issue.
While growing up in Manhattan, Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) lived in a rent controlled apartment. Despite the low income her family earned, rent regulations made it easier for her family to survive during times of hardship.
"New York City has to remain affordable for the middle class family," Stavisky said. "It will only get worse without the strengthening of rent regulations."
From 1994 to 2010, it was estimated that 300,000 affordable housing units were removed from rent regulation rolls, Stavisky said. She assured residents living in rent stabilized apartments her pledge to not let that happen again.
"The Senate Democratic Congress has made a commitment to keeping this issue at the top of our agenda," Stavisky said. "We will do the best can to see it through."
Although many Democratic legislators have pledged their support toward extending and strengthening rent laws, Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to push Republican Senators to follow suit.
"Cuomo needs to be more aggressive," Peralta said. "We need to shut down the halls of Albany because there is a need to understand the importance of rent regulations."
Since the November NYC elections, MRNY members have been hard at work setting the agenda for our next mayor, City Council and citywide elected officials.
We kicked off "Talking Transition" with a low-wage worker forum and our attorneys have been staffing a Single Stop clinic around the clock at the Transition tent.
Recently, our youth joined the Transitions conversation to bring education and police reform issues into the spotlight for the new elected officials. 17-year-old youth leader Cheyanne Smith was also profiled in the New York Times for her leadership to make NYC schools more respectful, safe, and dignified places for learning.